Authors: Richard Dubois
Tags: #Fiction, #Retail, #Science Fiction, #Suspense, #Thrillers
Copyright © 2013 by Richard DuBois
First Edition, 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from the author.
For more information:
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover Design by CCR Book Cover Design
eBook formatting by Maureen Cutajar
To the Queen of the Gnomes, my sister, Denise DuBois. Her constant support and hawk-eyed editing helped make this book possible.
A surreal sensation washes over me, a feeling both numbing and disconcerting. I close my eyes and have the odd sense that I am no longer Phillip Crane, thirty-seven, self-effacing adjunct professor for the science department of a fourth tier university. Nor am I sitting behind the wheel of a parked car on a shadow-filled street in a sleepy residential neighborhood. No, I am someone else, living somewhere else and Phillip Crane is a character invented by my overactive imagination. I pick up my cell phone and call my wife.
“Hello,” she sounds out of breath.
“Hey, Gwen. Just calling to say hi. Did I interrupt you?”
“What’re you doing?”
Pause. “Uh, nothing, watching TV.”
“No, not really. Just flipping channels. I’m surprised to hear from you. I thought your conference would be going all night.”
I listen closely for background noise. There is none. My tone is nonchalant. “We took a break to rest our brains so I figured I’d check in.”
She chuckles with either genuine amusement or nervousness. I cannot tell which. “You’ll be home around midnight?”
“Hopefully,” I reply.
“I’ll wait up for you.”
“No need to do that. You must be tired after a long day at the office. Listen, everyone is heading back into the conference room.”
“Okay, I won’t hold you up then.”
Before she hangs up I add, “Honey?”
She is back on the line. “Yes?”
“I love you.”
“Oh, I love you, too.”
She seems perplexed. We are not a couple that ends every phone call with sweet endearments.
From the glove box, I remove a photo from our wedding. It is impossible to gaze upon this photo of Gwen, delicate and beautiful, luminous in white satin and pearls, honey brown hair cascading over her smooth shoulders, and not feel wistful. That is the effect she has on me. The moment she entered my life I became like a gurgling infant staring wide eyed at a spinning crib mobile. Three years of marriage and if anything her loveliness has only increased. At the time of the photo, someone must have said something funny—was it me? I cannot remember—for in the photo she is laughing, her eyes sparkling with joy. In the photo, we are a contrasting pair, Gwen so lovely, and me the proverbial runt of the litter in a boxy suit. I do not deserve her. Even on my wedding day—the happiest day of my life—I seem to know how mismatched we are. My confused, goofy grin is that of the dumbest kid in class mistakenly given another student’s A+ grade.
I put the photo away and step outside the car. It is mid-May. The night is unusually cool—the moon just a pale sliver. I walk towards a well-maintained ranch house. My wife’s car is in the driveway. I dither on the front lawn. Should I ring the doorbell? No. I must get closer to the house to see what is happening inside without anyone knowing I am there. I feel exposed and out of my depth. Up until now, my life has been one of comfortable routine, reliable as a clock. I am not someone you expect to find skulking around in the shadows. I hunker close to the trunk of a maple and envision myself disappearing into the darkness ninja-like, each move stealthy and precise. Would a ninja’s knees quiver as mine are? How badly I wish I could slink back to my car, drive away, and continue living my life as it was before.
A large picture window dominates the front of the house. From within that room soft light filters through gauzy curtains. No figures move within. Perhaps the house is empty. The light may be on only to give the appearance someone is home. A chain link fence encloses the backyard. I sneak across the open lawn towards the fence. A car cruises down the street. Headlights hit me. Instinctively, I freeze. This looks too suspicious. Comically, I fidget around, pretending to look for something in the grass. The car drives on. Scaling the fence is no easy task. Regardless of my scrawny build, it sways beneath me as though I weigh a ton and creates an ungodly rattle that advertises my intrusion to everyone within earshot.
I hit the ground on the other side; the thud seems to vibrate right through the walls of the house. Crouching low, hardly daring to breathe, I stare up at the dark side window of the house, expecting at any moment to see a face and have someone demand to know why I am trespassing. Nothing stirs. The space between the ranch house and the fence separating the adjoining backyard is small—no wider than the length of my body. The side window is open. A faint breeze moves the curtains. Soft music plays within the house. With held breath, I peer inside. There is a hallway leading to what must be the dimly lit living room. Against the far wall, a fire crackles in the fireplace. Half-empty wine glasses rest on a coffee table. Walls obscure the rest of my view. I back away from the window.
Suddenly the air behind me explodes with ferocious barking, the breath, and spittle of a beast hot on my neck. I lunge forward, hands protecting my face and whip around to find a snarling Great Dane, as big as a horse, on the other side of the chain link fence. The massive hound frantically paces back and forth, barking madly. The fence protects me from those snapping jaws, but I cannot remain hidden in this spot. I crawl to the back of the ranch house. My body does not obey me as it should; it is as though my muscles have atrophied. The owner of the dog in the neighboring house—a tall woman of middle age—opens her backdoor.
The woman does not see me crouched in the darkness. The Great Dane continues to growl at me.
“Goldie! Hush up! Get in here. I can’t believe you, making all that racket.”
The dog turns in her direction, but refuses to budge, trying with helpless frustration to get the woman to see me.
“Now, Goldie,” the woman insists. Reluctantly, the dog turns away from me and heads inside the house. I huddle in a ball, not daring to move. Did the commotion draw someone to the side window of the ranch house? It is too risky to chance turning my head to find out. I am as motionless as a rock. Only after several minutes of hearing nothing more than the usual night sounds do I venture from my hiding spot. At the back of the house, there is a wooden deck, which has the usual assortment of outdoor furniture. Large sliding glass doors lead from the house to the deck. Curtains hang in the front of the glass doors; they are partly open allowing me to peer into the living room.
A man sits on a sofa, facing me but looking elsewhere. His name is Patrick Farber. He works with my wife. Granite jawed with neatly trimmed rust colored hair he has the beefy but muscled physique of an ex-college jock. Wearing a white athletic shirt, plaid boxers and nothing else, he reclines with arms outstretched on the back of the sofa like a sultan inspecting his harem. I half expect to see two slave women fanning him with palm fronds while a concubine feeds him grapes.
Staying low, I creep to the steps leading to the deck. I need to see more of the room. The closer I get the greater my vantage, and I finally see what Patrick is looking at. Gwen. Her back is to me. She wears one of Patrick’s sweatshirts, the oversized sleeves rolled up to her elbows. Her lower half is naked, the sweatshirt barely covering her backside, the firelight playing on her silky legs. A cocky grin plays on his smug face, beckoning Gwen to him, and she responds. Gwen’s approach is languorous, as though moving through honey. Without seeing her face I know she is enjoying this moment, savoring the anticipation. I have never seen her move in such a seductively feline way. It would not shock me if she curled up on his crotch and purred. She straddles his lap, cupping his grinning face in her hands. His large hands roam over her thighs, over her bare ass towards the small of her back. Those hands take possession of her, claim her and she eagerly yields to him.
Time slows down. Without realizing it, I’ve stopped breathing. This cannot be Gwen. I must be looking at someone else—an impostor— someone who only resembles my wife. Please, let it be someone else. Let this be an awful dream.
I am standing in full view now, walking in a daze up the deck stairs, not bothering to hide myself. Images flood my eyes faster than my brain can process them.
“Holy shit!” Patrick shouts. He is looking right at me as I stand outside the living room. Gwen turns around and the disbelief on her face strikes me like a punch. As though by their own volition, my legs begin walking backwards, carrying me from this awful scene. Even as every muscle in my body seeks to propel me away, I cannot take my eyes from Gwen. She leaps off Patrick and runs to the back door. I stumble down the steps.
“Please, Phillip, wait,” she grabs my arm. I shirk her off as I head back to the fence.
“I can’t. I can’t,” I gasp as I struggle to climb the fence. It was not supposed to go down like this. I was supposed to be calm, in control. Now all I want to do is get away and this fucking wobbly fence will not let me.
Gwen is pulling on my arm, sobbing. “My God, I am so sorry. I never wanted to hurt you. Please believe me.”
I face Gwen, my expression twisted into a mask of grief and fury. “Hurt me! You never wanted to hurt me! How did you expect me to feel when I see my wife screwing somebody else? Happy?”
She tries to put her arms around me, my beautiful Gwen, tears running down her cheeks; I push her back. Patrick stands behind her in his underwear, embarrassed and unsure what to do. The woman next door is at her kitchen window enjoying a front row seat to the spectacle. One thing about Patrick is certain: He is not ashamed. Someone like him never is. I bet he bragged about it to his buddies, describing in vivid detail every filthy act Gwen performed with him.
He steps in front of my wife as though to shield her. My God, this idiot thinks I am actually going to harm my wife and now he gets to play her knight and protector.
“Fuck you,” I rasp. I want to smash his jaw, feel his nose splinter and break beneath my fist. A fury unlike anything I have known erupts within me.
I leap at him. He must outweigh me by sixty pounds. With ease, he grabs me and hoists me off my feet.
“Calm down.” His voice is stern and authoritative. In comparison, I sound hysterical. What am I doing? The sudden rage that flared within me is gone, the inferno snuffed out as easily as a candle. I am no fighter. Life taught me early on—in the bluntly effective way that children size each other up and dominate the weakest—that I am not equipped for physical confrontations. All my adulthood I avoided conflict. Now a sickening fear swells in my gut—a feeling I hoped I would never feel again—the dread of a child picked on by a schoolyard bully.
Patrick releases me and I do not know whom I hate more—Patrick for having an affair with my wife or myself for being too weak to do anything about it. To complete my humiliation I begin to cry. Trying to stifle my tears only opens the floodgates wider. Patrick regards me with a mixture of pity and scorn. I cannot bear for anyone to see me. I want to burrow into the ground like a mole, safe and unseen in the dark earth.